Teaser Tuesdays: February 27


Welcome to Teaser Tuesdays – a weekly feature hosted by The Purple Booker. Expect a new teaser every week!


| Teaser Tuesdays: February 27 |

Lois the Witch

by Elizabeth Gaskell

Classics | 256 Pages | Published by Penguin Books in 2008


Lois sickened and shuddered at the whole scene; and this was no intellectual shuddering at the folly and superstition of the people, but tender moral shuddering at the sight of guilt which she believed in, and at the evidence of men’s hatred and abhorrence, which, when shown even to the guilty, troubled and distressed her merciful heart. She followed her aunt and cousins out into the open air, with downcast eyes and pale face.

~ Chapter 3 | 59% | Lois the Witch by Elizabeth Gaskell


| Synopsis |

Set against the backdrop of the Salem witch hunts, Elizabeth Gaskell’s sombre novella reveals much about the complicity of mankind. Recently orphaned, Lois is forced to leave the English parsonage that had been her home and sail to America. A God-fearing and honest girl, she has little to concern her in this new life. Yet as she joins her distant family, she finds jealousy and dissension are rife, and her cousins quick to point the finger at the “impostor.” With the whole of Salem gripped by a fear of the supernatural, it seems her new home is where she is in most danger. Lonely and afraid, the words of an old curse return to haunt her. Collaborator and friend of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell is a leading figure in Victorian literature.

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The Hobbit

by J.R.R. Tolkien

Fantasy | 306 Pages | Published by HarperCollins in 1995


He dreamed that a crack in the wall at the back of the cave got bigger and bigger, and opened wider and wider, and he was very afraid but could not call out or do anything but lie and look. Then he dreamed that the floor of the cave was giving way, and he was slipping – beginning to fall down, down, goodness knows where to.

~ Chapter IV: Over Hill and Under Hill | Page 58 | The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien


| Synopsis |

The Hobbit is a tale of high adventure, undertaken by a company of dwarves in search of dragon-guarded gold. A reluctant partner in this perilous quest is Bilbo Baggins, a comfort-loving unambitious hobbit, who surprises even himself by his resourcefulness and skill as a burglar.

Encounters with trolls, goblins, dwarves, elves and giant spiders, conversations with the dragon, Smaug, and a rather unwilling presence at the Battle of Five Armies are just some of the adventures that befall Bilbo.

Bilbo Baggins has taken his place among the ranks of the immortals of children’s fiction. Written by Professor Tolkien for his own children, The Hobbit met with instant critical acclaim when published.

Amazon | The Book Depository | Goodreads


| Join In |

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Please leave a comment with either the link to your own Teaser Tuesdays post, or share your ‘teasers’ in a comment here!

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Friday Firsts: Lois the Witch by Elizabeth Gaskell


Welcome to Friday Firsts – a new weekly meme created by Tenacious Reader. New Book: First paragraphs. First impressions. New favourite?


| Friday Firsts: February 23 |

Lois the Witch

by Elizabeth Gaskell

Classics | 256 Pages | Published by Penguin Books in 2008


| First Paragraphs |

In the year 1691, Lois Barclay stood on a little wooden pier, steadying herself on the stable land, in much the same manner as, eight or nine weeks ago, she had tried to steady herself on the deck of the rocking ship which had carried her across from Old to New England. It seemed as strange now to be on solid earth as it had been, not long ago, to be rocked by the sea, both by day and by night; and the aspect of the land was equally strange. The forests which showed in the distance all round, and which, in truth, were not very far from the wooden houses forming the town of Boston, were of different shades of green, and different, too, in shape of outline to those which Lois Barclay knew well in her old home in Warwickshire. Her heart sank a little as she stood alone, waiting for the captain of the good ship Redemption, the kind rough old sailor, who was her only known friend in this unknown continent. Captain Holdernesse was busy, however, as she saw, and it would probably be some time before he would be ready to attend, to her; so Lois sat down on one of the casks that lay about, and wrapped her grey duffle cloak tight around her, and sheltered herself under her hood, as well as might be, from the piercing wind, which seemed to follow those whom it had tyrannized over at sea with a dogged wish of still tormenting them on land. Very patiently did Lois sit there, although she was weary, and shivering with cold; for the day was severe for May, and the Redemption, with store of necessaries and comforts for the Puritan colonists of New England, was the earliest ship that had ventured across the seas.

How could Lois help thinking of the past, and speculating on the future, as she sat on Bostonpier, at this breathing-time of her life? In the dim sea-mist which she gazed upon with aching eyes (filled, against her will, with tears, from time to time), there rose the little village church of Barford (not three miles from Warwick — you may see it yet), where her father had preached ever since 1661, long before she was born. He and her mother both lay dead in Barford churchyard; and the old low grey church could hardly come before her vision without her seeing the old parsonage too, the cottage covered with Austrian roses, and yellow jessamine, where she had been born, sole child of parents already long past the prime of youth. She saw the path, not a hundred yards long, from the parsonage to the vestry door: that path which her father trod daily; for the vestry was his study, and the sanctum, where he pored over the ponderous tomes of the Father, and compared their precepts with those of the authorities of the Anglican Church of that day — the day of the later Stuarts; for Barford Parsonage at that time scarcely exceeded in size and dignity the cottages by which it was surrounded: it only contained three rooms on a floor, and was but two stories high. On the first, or ground floor, were the parlour, kitchen, and back or working kitchen; up-stairs, Mr. and Mrs. Barclay’s room, that belonging to Lois, and the maid-servant’s room. If a guest came, Lois left her own chamber, and shared old Clemence’s bed. But those days were over. Never more should Lois see father or mother on earth; they slept, calm and still, in Barford churchyard, careless of what became of their orphan child, as far as earthly manifestations of care or love went. And Clemence lay there too, bound down in her grassy bed by withes of the briar-rose, which Lois had trained over those three precious graves before leaving England for ever.

Amazon | The Book Depository | Goodreads


| First Impressions |

Gaskell’s prose always endears me to her work from the very start. The lengthy, evocative descriptions which make up the opening pararaphs are characteristic of her writing, a key detail in her abilty to portray realistic characters.

Already drawn in, I cannot wait to continue Lois’ journey to the New World – though I fully expect that it will be marred by hardship and tragedy, a trait that no Gaskell novel would be complete without.

What are you currently reading? What were your first impressions?

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The Month Ahead: February 2018


Welcome to this February’s The Month Ahead at Books by ProxyBringing you blog related news and announcements!


| Announcement |

After a somewhat extended interval Books by Proxy is back! And I’m so looking forward to getting back into the swing of posting – believe me, I’ve missed it!

At some point in 2016, and again in 2017, my inability to strike a work / life / blog balance lead to a complete fall off the edge of the book-o-blogosphere – As many fellow bloggers can attest, sometimes we forget to just take it easy.

Life is considerably busier these days; 2017 saw me move into my new home with the other half, continue my foray into (not-at-all-wicked) step-motherhood, and commence the final step in my professional qualifications whilst assuming more responsibility at work. Something definitely had to give somewhere and, unfortunately, it was this blog.

Reading, however, remains my passion and, as I begin to organise my time more effectively and remember that this blog is for fun and my own peace of mind, it seemed like the perfect time to kick things off once again – both books and blogs are here to be enjoyed after all!

So here’s to catching up with reading, blogging and the wonderful online book community in 2018!


| Currently Reading |

Once again I am reading far too many books at one time – but why change the habit of a lifetime! This month I’m continuing my read of The Vagrant by Peter Newman and Half the World by Joe Abercrombie – two books which were started a considerably long time ago but got left behind when I moved house.

They are joined this February by the esteemed company of Lois the Witch by Elizabeth Gaskell, which I’m reading as part of The Gaskell Society lecture events in Manchester, The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, as part of my There and Back Again feature (see below). heart


| Coming Up on Books by Proxy |

There and Back Again: A Journey Through Middle Earth, is an indefinite season of all things Tolkien here at Books by Proxy. Join me as I make my journey through the most defining literature of my childhood, and unravel the details behind one of the most spectacular fantasy worlds ever made.

Beginning with a re-read of The Hobbit – where week by week I explore the novel in Chapter and Verse – I aim to bring you a series of continuing posts which take us on a journey through the works of Tolkien.

This series will be ongoing and fluid with both regular, weekly posts and one-off explorations – Expect Middle Earth related content a-plenty!

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It’s back! I couldn’t return to this blog without returning to one of my favourite memes of all time – Tough Travelling, now hosted by The Fantasy Hive. Join me once again as I explore the biggest tropes and clichés in fantasy fiction.heart

During my prolonged absence, my wonderful blogger friends have continued with The Friday Face-Off and kept it alive for well over a year – something which makes me immensely happy! I’ll be jumping back into the meme with the list compiled by the amazing Lynn over at Lynn’s Books, where you’ll be able to see all upcoming themes.

Here’s what’s coming up this February in The Friday Face-Off:

02nd February 2018 | Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

A psychedelic cover

09th February 2018 | My, What Big Teeth You Have

A cover featuring a cloaked figure

16th February 2018 | Groovy Baby

A cover that is retro

23rd February | There are too many steps in this castle, and it seems to me they add a few every night, just to vex me

A cover featuring a staircase


| February Goals |

To read four books

Status: 0 of 4 Complete

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To write a review once a week

Status: 0 of 4 Complete

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What are you reading at the moment? What are your goals for the month ahead? 

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The Friday Face-Off: Like One, That on a Lonesome Road


Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a new weekly meme here at Books by Proxy. Join me every Friday as I pit cover against cover, and publisher against publisher, to find the best artwork in our literary universe.


A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn


Welcome to this week’s Friday Face-Off! This week we’re looking at covers which feature a road… preferably a lonely one!

Published by Titan in the UK and by Penguin / NAL in the US, A Curious Beginning is a book which fell into my lap through Goodreads a few months ago – and one which I am still yet to read! This Face-Off features two stunning covers in completely different styles, making this week’s choice incredibly difficult. Take a look and see which one, if any, came out on top!


Titan – UK Cover

Artwork by Julia Lloyd

Penguin / NAL – US Cover

Artwork by Michael Heath


| The Friday Face-Off: Winner |

This week is a definite draw! The style of the UK artwork is wonderful – and even better in real life! This eye-catching, illustrative cover is a light hearted edition which uses various Victoriana motifs to hint at the contents within. The colour palette – and that aged aquamarine especially – works perfectly as a backdrop to this elegantly fun composition, and the scroll-work and typeface used are interesting, detailed and work to draw the eye.

The US cover is a completely different affair and works with an atmospheric image to capture another side to the story. The use of lighting and a warm colour palette, especially the pink overlay to the street scene and the swirling mists, work together to create an eye-catching image – an image which almost feels like you could follow the figure into it – and the typeface is simple and elegant.

Which cover wins your vote this week? Have a cover of your own? – Post the link below!

Amazon | The Book Depository | Goodreads


Post LinksTomorrow’s theme is: You Got The Blues

A cover which is predominantly blue

Remember to check The Friday Face-Off Feature Page for upcoming themes

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Book Haul: February 06



| Book Haul: February 06 |

Welcome to my first book haul post! To avoid the inevitable crazy long list at the start of every month I’ve decided to create a separate post which will give a little more information on some of the amazing books which have made their way onto my bookshelves. Obviously this plan is a little flawed as I still have all of January’s finds to post… but instead of including an overwhelming number of books, I’m breaking them up and they’ll be cropping up in chunks over the coming month!


Frey and McGrayOdM2


| The Strings of Murder & A Fever of the Blood by Oscar de Muriel |

I won this lovely set of books in a Goodreads giveaway and they couldn’t have come at a better time! A week or so ago I had bought and read The Strings of Murder on Kindle and, after absolutely loving the first novel (review to come!) and in anticipation of the release of A Fever of the Blood, had planned to go to the book launch on 27th February at Waterstones in Manchester. Luckily for me, I happened to notice this giveaway on Goodreads and now I have a full set to get signed! And after my fantastic introduction to Frey and McGray, two highly entertaining and eccentric characters, I am in no doubt that I will thoroughly enjoy A Fever of the Blood.


The Strings of Murder


| Synopsis: The Strings of Murder |

A spellbinding concoction of crime, history and horror – perfect for fans of Sherlock Holmes and Jonathan Creek.

Edinburgh, 1888. A virtuoso violinist is brutally killed in his home. Black magic symbols cover the walls. The dead man’s maid swears she heard three musicians playing before the murder.

But with no way in or out of the locked practice room, the puzzle makes no sense…

Fearing a national panic over a copycat Ripper, Scotland Yard sends Inspector Ian Frey to investigate under the cover of a fake department specializing in the occult. However, Frey’s new boss – Detective ‘Nine-Nails’ McGray – actually believes in such nonsense.

McGray’s tragic past has driven him to superstition, but even Frey must admit that this case seems beyond reason. And once someone loses all reason, who knows what they will lose next…

Amazon | The Book Depository | Goodreads


Fever of the Blood


| Synopsis: A Fever of the Blood |

New Year’s Day, 1889. In Edinburgh’s lunatic asylum, a patient escapes as a nurse lays dying. Leading the manhunt are legendary local Detective ‘Nine-Nails’ McGray and Londoner-in-exile Inspector Ian Frey. Before the murder, the suspect was heard in whispered conversation with a fellow patient – a girl who had been mute for years. What made her suddenly break her silence? And why won’t she talk again? Could the rumours about black magic be more than superstition? McGray and Frey track a devious psychopath far beyond their jurisdiction, through the worst blizzard in living memory, into the shadow of Pendle Hill – home of the Lancashire witches – where unimaginable danger awaits…

Amazon | The Book Depository | Goodreads


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Bookish Beats: The Secret Garden OST


Bookish BeatsMusic, much like literature, has the power to drive your imagination; it can lift the soul and create real emotion.This is Bookish Beats, a feature which will showcase some of the soundtracks which have enriched the worlds I’ve found between the pages. 


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The Secret Garden (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Composed by Zbigniew Preisner


Listen to with:

A haunting and atmospheric tale

Such as:

The Somnambulist by Essie Fox

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett was one of my favourite books as a child. Burnett could create a world of magic, a world from secret and simple wonders which I would dream I was a part of. The film was no exception; I would watch it over and over again, and become lost in the gardens and halls of Misselthwaite Manor.

This soundtrack suffuses haunting melodies with tension and magic, interspersing them with  joyous crescendos.  As soon as I started reading The Somnambulist, I knew which soundtrack to go to. In fact, there are a lot of similarities between Misselthwaite Manor and Dinwood Court, and this soundtrack accompanied Essie Fox’s writing like it was made for it. During the opening track, Main Title, you could envisage Phoebe Turner and the exotic and dazzling world of the music halls, and Leaving the Docks was a perfect complement to her conflicted journey to Dinwood Court.

This is a soundtrack with a good range of music; exotic tracks lead into magical and haunting piano pieces, which lead into light and airy choir numbers. The main theme, which I can’t help but love, runs through many tracks including Leaving the Docks, First Time Outside and Shows Dickon Garden. If you are looking for a soundtrack to accompany a haunting and atmospheric tale, or indeed a Victorian Gothic novel, then I wouldn’t look any further – The Secret Garden could just be perfect.

Favourite track

04 – First Time Outside

Top track for action

01 – Main Title

Top track for tension

03 – Mary Downstairs

Top track for emotion

02 – Leaving the Docks

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Review: The Somnambulist by Essie Fox



The Somnambulist

by Essie Fox

Historical Fiction | 405 Pages | Published by Orion in 2012


| Rating |


I first discovered the work of Essie Fox through her blog, The Virtual Victorian. I had been writing my dissertation and had been musing on Penhaligon’s Hammam Bouquet, a Victorian fragrance inspired by Turkish Baths, when a random search took me into Fox’s world of Victoriana. After reading through countless posts I discovered that Essie Fox had also become a published author of fiction. I knew that if I saw The Somnambulist I would buy it; Fox’s blog was so aligned with my own interests that I was certain her novel would win me over. And I did just that. Then the deadlines came thick and fast, reading time was down to a minimum, and here I am several years later having only just read it!

The Somnambulist is a haunting tale of life, love and loss in Victorian England. Phoebe Turner lives under the rule of her strict, fanatical mother in the East End of London and takes every opportunity to escape into the world of the music halls where, dazzled by the lights and sounds, she watches her aunt Cissy perform. But when a dark and mysterious stranger turns up at Wilton’s Music Hall, Phoebe’s universe is turned upside down. Through heartbreak and pain, Phoebe is whisked off for a new life at Dinwood Court – a life of comparative luxury. But appearances can be deceiving. Dark secrets and lies hide beneath the surface and threaten to become exposed at every turn. Haunted by past mistakes, broken promises and cries in the night, Phoebe must unravel the past and find the truth at the heart of Dinwood. Nothing will ever be the same again.

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The Somnambulist is a beautiful tale, which Essie Fox has written in an incredibly poignant and honest way. It thrives on its power to convey the reality and complexity of life; the tough choices we all must make, the truths we must conceal, and the hardships we must endure. Written entirely from Phoebe’s perspective, the descriptive style of narrative makes her every thought and action, her entire world, come alive. From the rough and grimy streets of London to the imposing and atmospheric beauty of Dinwood Court, Victorian England becomes vivid and real.

This novel sets the stage for a whole cast of characters. No one is wholly good, nor are they wholly bad, they’re just very real. They lie, they cheat, they make mistakes; they care, they love, and they forge ahead with good intentions and bad luck. Phoebe is a very likeable protagonist who is incredibly easy to empathise with and care for, and the rest of the cast are well fleshed out and given room to grow. Essie Fox has written a book which successfully captures the duality of human emotion and personality, and weaves it through the narrative to create a haunting, but ultimately believable, story.

Though some may find the ‘plot twists’ predictable and there are several instances where it is hard not to know what will happen next, I felt more like a voyeur. I was watching Phoebe make the wrong choices, I knew the pain and heartbreak that lay ahead, and I could see the way a road would lead as she stumbled on down it. This is, after all, historical fiction and isn’t a crucial element of history knowing the outcome whilst continuing to unravel the story behind it? However much you may feel like Old Riley by the end of it, this book isn’t diminished by the lack of ‘surprise’.

And maybe this book holds a special place in my heart – my great grandparents were also Music Hall Artistes in late Victorian Britain – but I truly think there is magic to be found in The Somnambulist. This is an enchanting, haunting and utterly compelling tale which cast its spell over me from start to finish and which I, quite literally, couldn’t put down.

…And thank you Penhaligon’s Hammam Bouquet for leading me to the musings of an author I feel sure I will read for years to come.

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